Two Differing Approaches to Organizational Change Management (OCM)

OCM has been defined as “the process of continually renewing an organization’s direction, structure, and capabilities to serve the ever-changing needs of external and internal customers” (Moran & Brightman, 2001).   How this task is approached depends on your philosophy of OCM.

Your philosophy of OCM can be influenced by two different assumptions about change and how to manage it.  The first assumption can be represented by the following question: ‘How can we plan for change?’  The assumption here is that change is something that can be planned.  It assumes that you can understand the processes you must engage in; that the processes will always work; that you can control the conditions under which you will operate; that the external environment will respond to your actions; that stakeholders will maintain commitment for the change and the processes; that your plans will result in adaptive change; etc.   

This approach to OCM has been around for a long time, and it has enjoyed some success.  However, given the current uncertainties in the world economy, are its underlying assumptions still valid?  Can you really be sure that processes that have worked in the past will continue to work?  Are you really able to control as many things as you may have done in the past?  Can you be sure of what changes you will have to make in the future?  Will what has worked well yesterday continue to work well tomorrow?

The second assumption about change and how to manage it can be represented by the following question: ‘How can we be ready for change?’  The assumption here is that change has an unpredictable and uncertain quality about it.  Change management is less about engineering things we know will work, and more about learning how to navigate an unfamiliar passage.   In this sense, change management is more about being able to adapt to change rather than plan for change.  When you have to adapt, you want all hands on deck.  You want all your staff to be as responsive to change and quick to learn as possible.

The uncertainties of the change process have implications for the design of change initiatives.  Rather than working with fixed design ‘templates’, the variability inherent in change often requires an emergent design.  This means that instead of following rigid strategies, the pathway to change becomes apparent as you engage in the process and come to understand the complexities of the situation.  Assuming the role of a ‘change engineer’ can spell disaster when the situation actually calls for a ‘change learner’.

Obviously, the best OCM practices employ elements of both assumptions.  You do need to have some plans, there are some lessons from the past that will probably always work, and you can control some things.  Yet increasingly, the environment is uncertain and unpredictable, and you cannot be sure what changes you will need to make.  More than ever, change readiness is critical.  It is important to operate out of rational assumptions about OCM.  Redequip™ can help you get on the right track and position yourself for success.

Steve Barlow

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